|Genres:||Platform, Adventure, Shooter|
|Release date(s):||1980 (Arcade)
1982 (GCE Vectrex) 1982 (Atari 2600) 1983 (Atari 5200)
|Display||Raster, standard resolution (Used: 256 x 224), 16 colors, 19 inch|
|Number of players||One player|
|Input methods||8-way Joystick, 1 Button|
|Platforms||Arcade Game, Atari 2600, Atari 5200, GCE Vectrex|
Berzerk is a multi-directional shooter video arcade game, released in 1980 by Stern Electronics of Chicago.
The player controls a green stick-figure, representing a "humanoid." Using a joystick (and a firing button to activate a laser-like weapon), the player navigates a simple maze filled with many robots, who fire lasers back at the player character. A player can be killed by being shot, by running into a robot or an exploding robot, coming into contact with the electrified walls of the maze itself, or by being touched by the player's nemesis, "Evil Otto."
The function of Evil Otto, represented by a bouncing smiley face, is to quicken the pace of the game. Otto is unusual with regard to games of the period, in that there is no way to kill him. Otto can go through walls with impunity, and is attracted to the player character. If robots remain in the maze Otto moves slowly, about half as fast as the humanoid, but he speeds up to match the humanoid's speed once all the robots are killed. Evil Otto moves exactly the same speed as the player going left and right but he can move faster than the player going up and down; thus, no matter how close Otto is, the player can escape as long as they can avoid moving straight up or down. After 5,000 points Evil Otto doubles his speed, moving as fast as the player while robots remain in the maze, and twice as fast as the player after all the robots are destroyed.
The player advances by escaping from the maze through an opening in the far wall. Each robot destroyed is worth 50 points. Ideally, all the robots in the current maze have been destroyed before the player escapes, thus gaining the player a per-maze bonus (ten points per robot). The game has 64,000 mazes, and each level is designed to be more difficult to finish than the last. It has only one controller, but two-player games can be accomplished by alternating at the joystick.
Another memorable feature is the action of the robots—unlike adversaries in most other contemporary games, Berzerk's robots are known for being noticeably "stupid," killing themselves by running into walls or each other, shooting each other, or colliding with Evil Otto.
Two different versions of the game were released. As a player's score increases, the colors of the enemy robots change, and the robots can have more bullets on the screen at the same time (once they reach the limit, they cannot fire again until one or more of their bullets detonates; the limit applies to the robots as a group, not as individuals). In the original version, the sequence goes:
- Yellow robots that don't fire
- Red robots that can fire 1 bullet
- White robots that can fire 2 bullets
- Followed by Green 3 bullets, Pink 4 bullets, and Yellow 5 bullets
- Followed by White 1 Fast bullet. Red 2 fast bullets
- Followed by the same sequence firing more fast bullets
The revised version, which had the much larger production run of the two, features a longer color sequence that also included purple, green, and light blue robots. In this version, the robot sequence went up to five normal speed bullets, then they began firing fast bullets, starting with one fast bullet, and eventually going as high as seven fast bullets at once. After 20,000 points the robots stay light blue and may have up to seven fast bullets on screen for the remainder of play. To balance the greatly increased threat from the robots in this version, Evil Otto's pursuit speed remains at its normal (half or equal the player's speed) level throughout.
In both versions, a free man can be awarded at 5,000 and/or 10,000 points, set by internal DIP switches
Alan McNeil, an employee of Universal Research Laboratories (a division of Stern Electronics), had a dream one night involving a black-and-white video game in which he had to fight robots. This dream, with heavy borrowing from the BASIC game Robots (Daleks in the UK), was the basis for Berzerk, which was named for Fred Saberhagen's Berserker series of science fiction novels.
"Evil Otto" was named for Dave Otto, security chief at McNeil's former employer Dave Nutting Associates. According to McNeil, Otto would, "[smile] while he chewed you out." He would also lock McNeil and his fellow employees out of the building to enforce a noon-hour lunch, as well as piping "beautiful" music into every room.
The idea for a black-and-white game was abandoned when the color game Defender was released earlier the same year to significant success. At that point Stern decided to use a color overlay board for Berzerk. A quick conversion was made, and all but the earliest versions of the game shipped with a color CRT display. The game was test-marketed successfully at a Chicago singles bar before general release.
Probably the best-remembered feature of Berzerk is that the robots talk. This was one of the first video games to use speech synthesis.
In 1980 computer voice compression was extremely expensive—estimates were that this cost the manufacturer US$1,000 per word; the English version had a thirty-word vocabulary. Stern nevertheless did not spare this expense, and some non-English versions were made, for example a Spanish version in which the robots would say "Intruso alerta" and "El humanoide no debe escapar."[dubious – discuss]
The game's voice synthesizer generates speech for the robots during certain in-game events:
- "Coins detected in pocket": During attract mode, specifically while showing the high score list.
- "Intruder alert! Intruder alert!": Spoken when Evil Otto appears.
- "The humanoid must not escape": Heard when the player escapes a room after destroying every robot.
- "Chicken, fight like a robot": Heard when the player escapes a room without destroying every robot.
- "Got the Humanoid, got the intruder": Heard when the player loses a life. (The "Got the intruder" part is about a half-octave higher than the "Got the humanoid" part)
There is also random robot chatter playing in the background, phrases usually consisting of "Charge", "Attack", "Kill", "Destroy", or "Get", followed by "The Humanoid", "The intruder", "it", or "the chicken" (the last only if the player got the "Chicken, fight like a robot" message from the previous room), creating sentences such as "Attack it", "Get the Humanoid", "Destroy the intruder", "Kill the chicken", and so on. The speed and pitch of the phrases vary, from deep and slow, to high and fast.
Berzerk was officially ported to the Atari 2600, Atari 5200, and Vectrex. The Atari 2600 version features an option in which Evil Otto could be temporarily killed (he always returns), along with variations in regards to how often an extra man could be earned. The robots also did not fire diagonally. The Atari 5200 version is the only home version to include digitized speech, though the 2600 version was hacked to include speech in 2002. The Vectrex version added a sound to whenever Evil Otto bounced (which was not in the original), suffered from collision detection problems (robots could walk halfway through a wall before being destroyed) and slowdown, along with no voice synthesis.
A portable version of Berzerk was planned by Coleco (similar in design to their Pac-Man, Frogger, etc. line of VFD tabletop games), but was never released.
Stern later released a similar game called Frenzy as a sequel, and a Berzerk coin-op can be converted to Frenzy simply by replacing one processor (ZPU-1000 to ZPU-1001) and installing a different game ROM. The game also served as an inspiration for later, more sophisticated games such as Castle Wolfenstein, Shamus, Robotron: 2084 , and Xybots.
Milton-Bradley produced a Berzerk board game designed for two players, one playing Evil Otto and the robots, the other playing the hero. The playing pieces are plastic yellow rectangular panels that are labeled with the corresponding characters. The hero figure is differently shaped and labeled only on one side. It also has a slot in which a second piece is inserted representing the character's arms, both equipped with laser pistols. Pressing down on the back tab raises the guns and if the figure is properly positioned in the space, it knocks down a robot. Firing the weapon counts as one move.
Robot attack was an early clone of Berzerk written for the TRS-80 by the small company Big Five software. It also featured digitized speech.
Talking Android Attack is a clone of Berzerk for the Dragon 32 and Tandy Color Computer, marketed in the UK by Microdeal. As the name implies, it features several speech clips, including "intruder alert" and "I'll get you next time".
Cybermen is a Berzerk-style game released for the Commodore 64 in 1983.  
Cybertron Mission (Micro Power) for the BBC Micro, Acorn Electron and Commodore 64 from 1984 was heavily influenced by Berzerk.
In popular culture
Berzerk was the first video game known to have been involved in the death of a player. In January 1981, 19-year-old Jeff Dailey died of a heart attack soon after posting a score of 16,660 on Berzerk. In October of the following year, Peter Burkowski made the Berzerk top-ten list twice in fifteen minutes, just a few seconds before also dying of a heart attack at the age of 18.
A Cracked.com article entitled "The 10 Most Terrifying Video Game Enemies of All Time" listed Evil Otto as number one, citing the two deaths attributed to the game and remarking that "[H]e is possibly the only video game enemy in history to kill players in real-life" and "Evil Otto watched them die ... with a smile on his face."